Tonight the New York Rangers are at it again as the “The Battle of New York” takes place against their bitter rival the New York Islanders for the second time in three days. The season series between the two teams is tied through the first four games making the last meeting between the two crucial for players and fans alike in regards to bragging rights for the season.
The Rangers — coming off a big win against the Islanders on Wednesday and winning seven of their last 10 — are poised to continue to widen their cushion in the standings while the Islanders are desperately trying to gain points to inch closer to the playoff picture. The Metropolitan Division — and the entire Eastern Conference for that matter — is tightly packed in terms of the playoff race. In the Metropolitan Division, four teams are within two points of a playoff spot, and the Islanders currently in last place are only eight points out of a playoff spot. In the Eastern Conference as a whole, five teams are within two points of a wild-Card playoff spot making for some important, exciting hockey as we move closer to playoff season.
The Islanders are hungry for a win after a disappointing loss to the Rangers on Wednesday which makes it crucial that the Rangers are firing on all cylinders as they look for their third straight win tonight. The Rangers will have get it done tonight at Madison Square Garden in front of less than half the fans they had on Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium, but that should not make a huge difference as the Garden always shows the dedication and support of the New York fans. The Garden faithful love nothing more than a chance to see a game against the Islanders.
In order for the Rangers to win tonight they will have to show up offensively as they cannot expect Henrik Lundqvist to carry the team against the Islanders yet again. Lundqvist has been lights out lately as he has won four of his last five starts and heads into tonight’s game with a confidence that was not seen earlier this season.
The Rangers third and fourth lines came ready to play on Wednesday, contributing to the team’s play as a whole both offensively and defensively. Both goals were scored by the third and fourth lines on Wednesday, including the game-winner scored by fourth line winger Daniel Carcillo. In order for the Rangers to have continued success, their first two lines need to heat back up and begin scoring. Rick Nash has cooled off of late after his huge scoring streak, and the Rangers will need him to step back up and begin contributing again if they hope to win tonight and go deep into the playoffs this year. Another crucial player for tonight and the future is captain Ryan Callahan who has only contributed five points to the offense after returning from a knee injury a month ago. Derek Stepan will also be a crucial player as he aims to set up Nash and Chris Kreider on the first line tonight.
In order for the Rangers to win tonight and continue their winning ways into the playoffs they will need to see bigger contributions from their star players on their first two lines. The Rangers’ defense has been solid as usual all season, but they have struggled at times because of a lack of offense.
A larger contribution from their first two lines, continued contribution from their third and fourth lines, strong team defense and continued excellence from Lundqvist can carry the Ragers on their winning ways to be a strong competitor for the Stanley Cup. But as with all aspirations they must take it one day at a time, and that starts tonight at the Garden against the Islanders. From here on out every game counts even more.